Say the word "modified" to anybody in the Northeast, and chances are you'll hear names such as Richie Evans, Charlie Jarzombek, and Ron Bouchard. Use that same word south of the Mason-Dixon line, and Junior Miller, Ralph Brinkley, and Ray Hendrick will roll off their tongues. The fact is that Modified racing-that's asphalt Modified racing-has been around a long, long time.

From Upstate New York to the beaches of Florida, you can find Modified racing at a lot of different short tracks, and why not? They put on a great show. These 2,600-pound, 107-inch-wheelbase race cars typically run a small-block in the range of 350- to 360ci engines.

Like their dirt counterparts, asphalt Modified rules stay reasonably consistent from sanction to sanction, making it easy for guys like New Jersey's Jimmy Blewett and North Carolina's Junior Miller to run all over the place, if they choose.

While Modified racing's roots were based in the Northeast, there was a lone holdout in the South, Winston Salem's Bowman Gray Stadium. Jerry Cook, the former series director for the National Modified Tour when it was formed back in the '80s, says that Bowman Gray is solely responsible for preserving Modified racing in the South. "If it weren't for them," Cook says, "that style of cars would have been long gone down here."

HISTORY LESSON
Before we get into where Southern Modified racing is going, let's take a look at where it came from. In 1988, after a rainout in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a group of car owners and drivers gathered together and formed the Southern Modified Auto Racing Teams, or S.M.A.R.T., as they became known to race fans throughout the region. For the next 16 years, Modified racing lived through the S.M.A.R.T. Tour as they raced up and down the Carolinas and Virginia. In late 2004, NASCAR announced it was taking over the S.M.A.R.T. Tour and bringing it under the NASCAR banner. It was renamed the Whelen Southern Modified Tour. A number of tracks didn't or couldn't join NASCAR, and petitioned the American Speed Association to begin sanctioning Modified racing at their facilities. Thus, the ASA Southern Modified Tour was born.

With two series running the same cars in the same region, you might think there would be a lot of animosity between the two groups, but there isn't. In an incredibly smart move, there isn't a single conflicting date between the two organizations, nor do they race on any common track during the season. This allows many of the teams and drivers to run in both series. In fact, the drivers who are at the top of the points standings in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Series are also at the top of the ASA Southern Modified points. That should come as no surprise to anyone who delves into the schedule. Since there are only 12 races on NASCAR's circuit, adding the 10 ASA Southern Modified Race Tour races almost doubles a team's chance to win and perhaps make a little money on the season.

More than half of the 20 or so drivers who have made at least three starts this season race on both tours. While that's a good thing, you still have your loyalists.

THE DIFFERENCE
There are those drivers who don't run the newer ASA series, preferring instead to run with NASCAR. Almost all of the NASCAR races are on tracks the Modifieds have historically raced on, and they like it that way. Running on the same tracks for 20 years can be comfortable. Teams already have notes on the track and can practically set up the car at home before they get to the track. Most of the teams also like the national exposure that NASCAR gives them. While it's true they don't have a television package like the top-three touring groups, they do get coverage through NASCAR's Web site and affiliated newspapers.

Along with that national exposure, the choice of tracks is bigger in the NASCAR world. With the exception of the tires, a NASCAR Southern Modified Tour team can also run on the Northern Tour under the same rule book . . . if they have the budget.

On the flip side, the ASA Tour focuses a lot of attention on the individual track and team. Many tracks throughout the South are struggling. There is a lot of competition to get fans into the stands and drivers on the track. Some of those tracks can't afford to pay the price to become a NASCAR track. Likewise, NASCAR licenses for a team are more expensive than ASA. Bigger, established operations that have been running for years can handle the added costs, but there are a lot of smaller groups out there. Most of those racers aren't professional teams; they do it on the side because they love Modified racing. The ASA Southern Modified Tour offers them a chance to go racing without the extra costs.

Interestingly, four of the drivers who are sitting in the Top 10 in ASA Southern Modified Race Tour points are comfortably in the Top 10 in NASCAR Whelan Southern Modified Tour points. So regardless of whether it's big money or small money, ASA or NASCAR, it seems that Modified racers race for the cult-like love of racing Modifieds.